Listening to other Japanese learners who are a higher level than you speak Japanese results in one of two reactions. It motivates: you want to sound like they do and realize this is what is awaiting the fruits of your hard work. It discourages: you become annoyed at your own pace and level, and want to know why you aren’t as good as them yet. The good news for you is that that the Japanese they are speaking is probably nowhere near as good as you think. You have merely fallen prey to the Japanese Fluent Illusion.
When you study Japanese, people who know more than you tend to sound significantly better. You might even think they are fluent. But this is not the reality. Everything you hear will be in comparison to your own level. It doesn’t take much to create this illusion of greatness. Even someone merely 10 levels over you (which might only equal a few months more of studying) is enough to make you look up to them.
But with Japanese Level Up, you will soon surpass them, shattering the illusion. They were never that great, and may have actually been pretty bad. You can experience this often on You Tube video blogs. Before you watch any of these videos and start to think “wow they are fluent and oh so amazing,” remember that this feeling will be quite temporary. As your listening ability skyrockets, even some of the “great” Japanese speakers on the internet you used to admire in your earlier levels will begin to sound different.
The Reality Of Fluent Japanese Speakers
As the illusion fades away, you will soon realize how few real fluent Japanese speakers there are. I can only hypothesize at this point, but I believe people often become too content with a middle level. Once they hit somewhere around 30-50, they don’t think they need to study anymore and don’t realize how much they have left to go. While there Japanese is “good”, their pronunciation still sounds very foreign, they make many mistakes, and they don’t yet have that natural flow.
I believe that you, the next generation of Japanese speakers, will be different. You won’t be satisfied at average. You will join the ranks of the few and bask in the rewards.
Even I still am working on my speaking. While I’ve just recently surpassed level 70, and almost every skill is approaching the final 10-level stretch to native, my speaking still has its foreign sounding tendencies and occasional mistakes. This is natural, as speaking will always be the last skill to follow the rest of your abilities.
This should also remind you that should never stop aiming for higher grounds.
Founder of Jalup. iOS Software Engineer. Former attorney, translator, and interpreter. Still watching 月曜から夜ふかし weekly since 2013.